What’s the thinking behind Pop-up Opera?
I grew up in a small town and didn’t have the opportunity to go to the opera locally, so it partly came from wanting to take opera to more rural areas. I did some opera scenes in a barn while I was at music college for an audience who would normally go and see blues and folk nights there. I thought, let’s try doing some opera in an environment that’s relaxed and they can go to the bar and get a pint.
As someone with a performing background, how do you learn to produce?
Producing has very much been a case of learning on the job and talking to as many people as possible. We started with just a few venues and people would come along and then recommend others. As it’s grown I’ve had to approach venues much more proactively.
You’ve got to have a lot of enthusiasm and be able to enthuse others. You’ve got to be able to find ways of doing things simply, too, as the budget is rarely there. Contact is important: talk to lots of people about the project and make them feel part of it, so that they know they’re part of its growth and development.
What do you look for in a venue?
We use so many different kinds of venues and they’re really varied – from bars to a cave in the Forest of Dean and a boat made of scrap metal. Rather than looking for a certain thing in a venue, uniqueness is important. It’s about adapting what we’ve put together to work in that space and to use the acoustic and the size. If we perform in a bar then we use the bar as part of the set. We incorporate what we find.
What qualities do you look for in singers?
Vocal talent and ability, obviously, but it’s very different to being on a big stage in an opera house. These singers have got to be able to go into the audience. Seeing the performances at such close range is exciting for the audience but it can be a challenge for the singers, who are also coping with spaces that may present their own challenges, like being damp and cold. The singers have to be able to adapt and think on their feet and embrace that space at make it work.
What practical advice would you give performers working across varied spaces?
I always tell our singers to arrive early so that we have time to work out how everything is going to fit. In a very small space they don’t need to push the sound. They can just relax and let the audience come to them rather than trying to belt it out. Be ready to think on your feet and be aware of the other singers on the stage. Be aware of the audience and be open to reacting in different ways rather than just following the ropes.
You’re producing in non-traditional spaces. Do you have traditional production values?
Yes, in the sense that we do original, mainly bel canto, works. The quality of the music is still really high and we are not dumbing it down. But I didn’t want to try to do big grand costumes on a small budget. I wanted to use the budget we had to make it fresh. So the operas we’ve done so far have been set in the modern day in very simple costumes and have used lots of props – and the music and the drama – to tell a story rather relying on a fancy set or costume.
In Focus: Musical Director Maria Garzon on directing singers
When we rehearse, a lot of the time we don’t use the full voices because the singers have to preserve their voices. We usually have a few rehearsals just with me in which we discuss the musical parts and then the acting comes on top of it.
The singers’ instruments are their voices and they have to take care of them. Sometimes in big companies the demands on the singers can be unrealistic and they don’t take care of the voices properly.
I study the scores and I expect the singers to come prepared to rehearsals. Each singer doesn’t just learn their own part but also other parts. This way, they know what everybody else is doing and they also know the orchestral bits, so that we work like one body.
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